Texas crushed Kansas 76-56 to win its second Big 12 tournament title ever. The Longhorns have now beaten powerhouse Kansas twice in eight days, trouncing the Jayhawks in Austin one week ago, 75-59.
“This has been a resilient group all year long,” Texas interim head coach Rodney Terry said in his post-game TV interview. “They worked their tails off. We’re Big 12 champs!”
Then his players smothered and swarmed him with hugs and cheers as they all jumped around in celebration. They didn’t just beat Kansas in their backyard, but they beat the defending national champions by 20 points in their backyard in front of a very pro-KU crowd.
Texas came out aggressive and went right at Kansas. The Horns got early layups, made their presence known inside and battled on every possession. By halftime, the Longhorns had 20 points in the paint to KU’s 10. They finished with a 38-28 edge. Dylan Disu, Jabari Rice and Marcus Carr combined for 52 points and Brock Cunningham had eight points and nine rebounds. Guys stepped up all over the place, as they have done this entire tournament, to replace the production of starter Timmy Allen who was on the bench for the third straight game with a leg injury.
Texas shared the ball well, racking up 16 assists. The most gorgeous had to be from Rice. While leading a fastbreak, he threw an alley-oop to freshman Arterio Morris, who threw down a thunderous dunk to make it a 20-point game with 4:34 remaining.
Texas held Kansas to 56 points on 41% shooting. Jalen Wilson, who was the Big 12’s unanimous player of the year, led the Jayhawks with 24 points and added six rebounds. The rest of the team combined for 32 points on 15-of-39 shooting.
Starting point guard Kevin McCullar did not play after leaving Friday’s semifinal early. He’d experienced back spasms and re-aggravated his injury. Kansas interim head coach Norm Roberts said before the game he wanted to make sure McCullar was healthy for next week, so they were going to sit him out..
Kansas has owned the Big 12 tournament, winning a record 12 titles. It’s never easy to beat them on their home-away-from-homecourt, but that’s what the Longhorns did. And that makes them a very dangerous and hot team heading into the NCAA tourney.
NCAA tourney seeding set?
Even before this result, Kansas was locked into a No. 1 seed. There had been some discussion of Texas potentially snagging a No. 1 seed too if they beat Kansas for the league title, but all signs still point to the Longhorns being a No. 2 seed.
The last time Texas earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament? It was 2008 when the team was led by D.J. Augustin.
In Sunday’s NCAA Selection Show, we will also find out how many bids the Big 12 will get. There will be at least seven teams from the conference: Kansas, Texas, Baylor, TCU, Kansas State, Iowa State and West Virginia. Oklahoma State is on the bubble and could go either way.
At one point it appeared that the Big 12 could have up to 10 bids, but that changed as the season went on. The Big Ten could have eight or nine bids and the SEC could get six or seven. Of course there could be surprises on Selection Sunday.
Interim head coaches lead the way
For the first time ever, a conference tournament championship pitted teams playing under interim head coaches.
Kansas was coached by Roberts effortlessly led the program through the Big 12 tournament in Bill Self’s absence. Self, who underwent an emergency medical procedure this week, missed the conference tourney entirely after checking into the hospital Wednesday night. The Hall of Famer has been in communication with his team, though, speaking to them remotely and letting them know how proud he’s been watching from afar.
“It was great to talk to him, hear his voice,” Wilson said. “He was super proud of how we did last game and I’m sure he’ll be proud of us this game.”
Roberts told reporters after KU’s semifinal win over Iowa State that Self is “getting better,” but there’s still no timetable for his return with the NCAA tournament looming next week. Kansas is expected to be a No. 1 seed as it strives to defend its title.
Roberts has coached with Self for most of his career. He’s been at Kansas for 12 seasons and was on Self’s previous staffs at Illinois, Tulsa and Oral Roberts. He also coached the Jayhawks’ first four games of the season when the university placed a self-imposed four-game suspension on Self for his possible role in an NCAA infractions case. Kansas went 4-0.
On the other sideline was Terry, who has been the interim head coach at Texas since early January. That’s when the university fired Chris Beard following an arrest on domestic violence charges. Terry, who is clearly beloved by his players, has been around the sport for nearly three decades and part of the Longhorns program for a chunk of his career. He was an assistant under Rick Barnes for nine seasons from 2002-11 and was in his second year as an associate head coach at Texas before being named interim head coach.
This year he’s helped lead Texas to its first 25-win season since 2010-11 and has been nominated for national awards – he’s currently one of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Men’s Coach of the Year.
With each win — especially this time of year — Terry is only strengthening his case to get that interim tag removed.
Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.
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